Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Up the Creek Without a Paddle

Isaac Martin (Spring 2017)

... And we like it that way!
Lake District was an adventure.  It was an adventure in the fullest sense of the word, “an unusual and exciting or daring experience,” and let me tell you, Lake District did not disappoint.  It was unusual in the sense that it didn’t include site-seeing within the cities, or finding cool museum tours or looking at old buildings as you walk down old cobble-stoned streets.  Instead of walking out of the hostel and onto a busy street, we walked out to find nothing but a beautiful vista of the calmest, most peaceful lake I have ever laid eyes upon.  It truly was sensational.  After letting calmness rush over you, you see the mountain break through the fog behind the lake and you realize that you’re about to climb it.  This is the excitement the Lake District promises.  As you approach the mountain you can’t help but notice the countless streams and creeks, all of various sizes, running off the mountain and into the still lake.  Then it hits you – tomorrow you’re going ghyll scrambling and you’ll dare to walk (you’ll later learn that means wading) up one of those streams.
In all my years spent outdoors, hiking and whatnot, my favorite times have been the ones where I have a starting point, an ending point, and a vague idea of where I want to be in the middle without having a strict path to follow or reason to rush.  The best times for me are just spent doing what I love most-- exploring.  What a better way to experience the Lake District than simply crawling up the side of the mountain, abandoning the scattered paths through the hills, and simply seeing what you can see. 
There are definite perks to walking off the beaten path; new discoveries, better views, and a stronger sense of adventure. However, it doesn’t come without its difficulties.  Out of such difficulties, games were made.  What games, you might ask?  The ones were everyone in the group agreed that whoever fell over from slipping in the mud the most lost.  We went so far as to define the rules of playing and what exactly constitutes a “fall”.  We mostly followed the NFL rules for what is ruled a tackle (any body part besides the feet or hands touching the ground is considered down).  And after consideration we included a “tripping” clause that if anyone was determined to have tripped or deliberately pushed another down would have said person’s fall attributed to the pusher’s score.  The goal was to keep your score low so as to not lose the game.
Ten miles later, the final score-line amongst us nine friends was 2-2-2-1-1-1-1-0-0.  The three-way tie was never broken and all three “2-pointers” were determined to be co-losers.  It was random games like this that contributed to seemingly random exploration being one of my favorite activities of the Lake District.  This game also helped me to realize that sometimes in life you’re going to fall down, but while you’re at it, have some fun with it!
One of the most interesting parts of the hike itself was that each time we saw a hill we thought to ourselves, “Surely, if we can just get to the top of this hill, we can take a break on top.”  A great mindset in theory.  However, as in life, there’s always another hill to climb.  The Lake District has no shortage of climbs to be had, and it’s important to just keep putting one foot in front of the other because the view from the top was worth it every time.  After hours of false-summits we finally reached the top of one mountain, marked by the stone column informing us of our measly 1100 feet climb (by far the smallest summit in the area).
 Another favorite adventure from the Lake District was ghyll scrambling.  Something I hadn’t heard of until signing up for activities through Harlaxton, I had no idea what to expect out of this.  The easiest way to describe what ghyll scrambling actually is would be to have you imagine the coldest water you can think of being acceptable to get into, and then imagine colder but going in anyways.  Now imagine that said water is moving swiftly down a sizeable mountain creek.  Add a helmet for safety, shoes with some good grip, and now get in that creek and start walking (or crawling, rather) upstream. 
Ghyll scrambling taught me a few things.  First and foremost, it taught me that it’s okay to accept that you have physical limitations and that some people will just flat out be more inclined to do things that you just can’t.  Ghyll scrambling involves a lot of finger strength, body control, and sometimes you just won’t be able to reach the same hand holds as everyone else.  That leads me to the next ghyll scrambling lesson: creativity.  Just because you can’t use the same handholds or path that someone else used doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution for you.  Use creativity to find a way for you to make your own path amidst the current trying to sweep you away.  Lastly, via various deeper pools of water along the route, I learned to take the jump.  You only have one chance to ghyll scramble with this group of people, on this creek, with conditions like this.  Don’t not jump simply to save yourself from feeling a little cold.  Jump in the freezing cold water and make a fool of yourself.  Life doesn’t offer do-overs.

This adventure truly was all about the journey, not the destination. And more than that, it was about the lessons learned, disguised as fun and games that stick with me through the memories.  From learning to have fun with it when you fall down, putting one foot in front of another until the view takes your breath away, accepting what you can do, creatively finding a way around what you can’t, or taking the jump into that cold water because you don’t know if you’ll ever have the chance to do it again, Lake District imparted me with stunning views and important reminders.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Finding the Perfect Balance: Harlaxton College Edition

By Megan Taylor (Spring 2017)

Finding the right balance between schoolwork and travelling can be difficult while at Harlaxton. The goal is to get that 4.0 but also to live out our dreams of travelling the world. Fear not! There can be that perfect balance and yes, you can find it!
To start off, knowing what type of learner you are is very important! My first semester, one of my professors made everyone take an online quiz to see what type of learner we all were, and I cannot thank her enough. I encourage you to find a test online to see what kind of learner you are; visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Knowing how you learn will also help you get to know yourself a little better. It is always good to know what makes you most comfortable and what works for you.
Going along with learning styles and knowing yourself, knowing if you need more time to study versus maybe not needing as much time is important. There is nothing wrong with travelling every weekend, but the British Studies course that is required of all Harlaxton students is tough and it can be overwhelming. I know that depending on the style of class how much time I need to allot every week for schoolwork. Because I allot time throughout the week, I allow myself to have the weekend free so I can travel. I have talked to some students who are at Harlaxton this semester and they agreed. Balancing schoolwork and travel can be hard and overwhelming but once you find what works for you, you will breeze through the semester.

Another piece of the puzzle to finding your perfect balance is self-care. I cannot express enough how important it is to eat well, exercise (if that’s not your cup of tea, walk up to the 500s corridor it will get your heart pumping!), drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. I have also been given the advice to take a weekend to stay at the manor once every month to 6 weeks. Course load at Harlaxton is said to be lighter, but I am finding that midterm semester is still a pretty heavy week. It is okay to stay back if that is what you need to catch up on schoolwork or just to relax.

As the halfway point is approaching, I am realizing that part of the Harlaxton experience is really getting the opportunity to know yourself. This is key to not only making your experience at Harlaxton what you want to get out of this opportunity, but to find the perfect balance between schoolwork and travelling for you. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Coping with Anxiety Abroad

By Sari Baum (Spring 2017)

As I looked out the bus window on the way into the city I felt we had made a mistake. Years of communist rule had turned what was once picturesque Latvian suburbs into a graveyard of boarded up apartment complexes with cast iron balconies hanging from the buildings windows like loose teeth. To some people we were traveling off the edge of the map as Riga is a city that’s fame has been smothered by a tragic history of occupation. The destitution we were witnessing was amplified by my “high-functioning” anxiety.
I stayed silent for most of the twenty minute bus ride into the center of the city. Our sleepless night made it easy to claim exhaustion as the cause of my quiet mood rather than a panic attack. But slowly Riga unveiled its beauty and suddenly we were in a blooming city center framed by eclectic Art Nouveau architecture and barren trees drenched in twinkling blue lights. It was a quiet fairy tale none of us were expecting.
Once in Old Town we agreed to search for food and as we ambled along I touched each of my fingers one at a time to my thumb, hoping that the repetitive motion would keep me calm. We walked towards a bakery, following some locals who we figured knew where to find the most authentic food. The bakery had pastries filling the windows; little Christmas cakes covered in powered sugar and traditional heart shaped gingerbread cookies decorated with piped icing lace. The women behind the counter were patient as we tried to point to what we wanted to order and helped us count out our money on the counter. I ordered something familiar to me, poppy seed cake, because I find that food has a way of making me feel at home. It connects you with the culture around you and each bite gets you closer to figuring out your place in all of it. The four of us took an exhausted selfie together, capturing the moment before enjoying our first round of baked goods (we came back again the next day). But that picture also captured the moment my anxiety began to dissipate and the tense feeling in my stomach was replaced with the scrumptious fruitiness of poppy seeds.

Later that night we befriended two girls at our hostel and decided to go out. You haven’t truly visited Riga until you’ve experienced its nightlife. With this decision to skip going to bed my anxiety intensified. But buried beneath the worry that everything could go wrong I realized I was excited. Walking into the club was like stumbling onto the set of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Dense air, the jiggling of change as it’s exchanged for shots, and distorted visions of people dancing beneath frantic strobe lights. The environment was abstract and yet my travel companions had already become a comfort to me and that was enough. We stayed out until four in the morning, wandering around Old Town trying not to trip on the cobblestones and watching people as they staggered home singing drunken lullabies. All day the city had been quiet, almost reserved. But at night the city was revived, and its people seemed acutely aware of the need to live unapologetically. 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Harlaxton ABC's

By Kelly Nixon (Spring 2017)

A is for adventure, ASDA, and afternoons. No matter where you go or what you do here it's an adventure. From getting lost exploring in the afternoon or perusing the candy isle at ASDA, everything is exciting and fun. 

B is for British Studies, the six-credit hour course everyone takes. The amount of Henry's, Edward's, and Thomas's will make you lose your mind. 

C is for cathedrals, castles, and city centers. Europe is full of both the old and new. You never find yourself short of old cathedrals and castles to visit more often than not right at or near the modern, bustling city center.

D is for double-decker buses, dancing, and dreams come true. Whether you get to ride a double-decker bus for the first time or spend your time dancing the night away at the Ceilidh, being at Harlaxton and all of the firsts it provides is a dream come true!

E is for embrace. Embrace the changes; embrace all that's different. Take it all in. Jump into the different countries and cultures. It's fun, it's different, it's exciting! Also embrace your mistakes- so what if you took a wrong turn or messed up when tying to figure out military time. It's all part of a semester abroad.

F is for friends that turn into family and fun. You spend every hour with the same people, your group of friends that become your family as you both have fun exploring, discovering, and facing challenges and hard times.

G is for Gregory Gregory and Grantham. Thanks to a man named Gregory Gregory. You built an amazing and unique manor house in Grantham that would become the home of hundreds of Harlaxton study abroad students. Grantham is a town that’s not too big, yet not too small. It's not only home to ASDA and the magical Poundland but also The Gregory and The Goose. 

H is for Harlaxton of course! You're British home away from home. The manor house that you love so much, never want to leave, and rejoice in returning to every Sunday night.

I is for independence, a skill you learn and/or refine here. While the school keeps an eye on us and where we're going, they let us go and spread our wings. We make mistakes, miss trains, and have to fend for ourselves. It's all part of the experience, and it makes us stronger, smarter, and more independent people. We learn that yes, we can do it. 

J is for the journey, not the destination. Being at Harlaxton is all about taking a couple of wrong turns on the way to where you're going. It's about taking pleasure in the process and not hurrying up to get somewhere. It's about stopping to smell the roses, pet the dogs, and taking detours because "oohhh that looks neat!" It's not about making sure you see every tourist attraction and every museum, but instead is about making sure you see the city and the country and the little things that make them unique. 

K is for kings and the Royal Family. They are kind of a big deal- especially from the viewpoint of the American since we don't have royalty at home. Also, you learn all about the monarchy in British Studies. 

L is for languages. With all the different countries you visit come different cultures and languages. Try to communicate; try to understand them! The natives will appreciate your attempt and you'll find that even with barriers you can still get your point across. You might just also properly learn a word or two. 

M is for management; management of time and of finances. We learn to balance study and travel and how to keep and stick to a budget. This is in my opinion one of the most important (and serious) things you will learn this semester. 

N is for naps. Travel is exhausting and the coaches can and will put you and everybody else to sleep. No matter how hard you try to hold your eyes open, I guarantee that you're going to wake up an hour or two slumped against your neighbor who is probably also asleep or waking up since it's just about time for you to be pulling into the Manor's drive. 

O is for old. Coming from the US, a baby when it comes to countries, I was shocked at just how old some things are. The history here is amazing. 

P is for passport, your most important document. Don't lose it! Your passport allows you to travel from country to country. It's the first thing that gets packed, and it tells the story of your adventures though its pages of many stamps. 

Q is questions. Here there is no such thing as a stupid question- well okay there are stupid questions, many of them. Don't be shy, ask them anyway. Everything here is new and different and you're going to want to know the what's and why's of it all. Trust me, you’re not going to sound like an idiot- this is coming from the girl who asked "how do you (the British) keep all of the hedges flat and even on top?" 

R is for rain. It rains so much here! When you go outside you should always be prepared lest you get stuck in the afternoon drizzle. That is unless you adopt my motto- "I'll dry". 

S is for study; yes study the "real" reason you came this semester. It also stands for stairs and sheep. The amount of stairs you climb in the Manor is insane, especially if, like me, you live in the 500s. Also while here, sheep may become one of your favorite animals, whether from visiting them while walking the trails around Harlaxton or gazing at them from the train in Scotland. 

T is for transportation. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, you can get just about anywhere here in Europe. It's crazy that you can hop on a train and be in another country in two or three hours. The planes here are also really inexpensive (compared to US) standards, making travel not only easy but pretty cheap too.

U is for the United Kingdom. What more can I say? England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Yes, it's different from Britain, and no I didn't know that before coming but I sure do now! 

V is for video-calling home. FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger video chat, it really doesn't matter when you just need to talk to your mom (or your dog). Whether you just want to tell everyone back at home about your weekend trip or you are feeling homesick, video calls are the best thing ever. Just keep the time difference in mind when trying to schedule them. 

W is for walking... everywhere. Your feet are two of the best forms of transportation here. Not only do you get exercise (more than you every thought you would this semester) but you also see parts of cities and towns that you would miss taking other forms of transportation. 

X is for (e)xperience and (e)xploration. This semester is one of the greatest experiences you will ever have. Words do not do justice when trying to describe this semester. You do things you never believed you could or would do. You try new things and explore new places, and become a better person because of it. 

Y is for yes! This is the semester of "yes!" It is the semester of trying new things and not saying no. It is the enthusiasm of the adventure and a learning curve, too. It is saying "yes" to new people, new places, and a new you.  

Z is for zoom- how time just seems to fly! One day you're just arriving and the next you're asking where the semester went. We're about half of the way through the semester now and I swear it's only been a few days! Like, didn't we just get here?